Slavoj Žižek Discusses Applications of Philosophy

 Marxist and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek lectures in a packed Rose Hills Theater at Pomona College on Feb. 28. (Lia Francis-Bongue • The Student Life)

Co-founder of the Slovenian Liberal Democratic Party and prominent intellectual Slavoj Žižek spoke at Pomona College's Rose Hill Theatre on Tuesday, Feb. 28. Žižek, a follower of Hegelian philosophy, is known for his theoretical combination of philosophy and psychoanalysis, and his ability to apply dense academic theory to pop culture and modern-day politics. 

Žižek’s talk focused on how the process of producing something can result in a “surplus-enjoyment,” an idea which can be applied not just to the production of material things, but to psychological processes. At one point, Žižek compared the functioning of ideology in our everyday lives to the augmented reality game Pokémon GO.

“Instead of taking us out of the real world, and throwing us into an artificial space, [Pokémon GO] combines the two. We look in reality, and we think in reality through the fantasy frame of the digital screen. This frame supplements reality with virtual elements, which sustains our desire to participate in the game... What the technology of Pokémon GO externalizes is simply the basic mechanism of ideology... the primordial version of augmented reality. Did Hitler not offer the Germans in 1930’s the fantasy frame of Nazi ideology, which made them see a specific Pokémon, the Jew?”

Timely examples and metaphors marked Žižek’s talk, which was co-sponsored by Claremont Graduate University’s cultural studies department, and the departments of media studies, politics, and philosophy at Pomona College. In an interview with TSL, chair of media studies at Pomona College Mark Andrejevic spoke of Žižek’s eccentric style and relevance in pop culture. 

“He’s a pretty big name philosopher in the sense that he kind of bridges academic and popular media, culture, both in the work that he does and also in his own academic practice," Andrejevic said. "He writes columns for a whole range of popular press newspapers, and he reflects on contemporary political events, contemporary media events.”

Andrejevic thinks Žižek's theories are also relevant to the field of media studies.

“He’s somebody whose work is quite influential in the field," Andrejevic said. "There are a number of scholars working in media studies who draw on his philosophical texts and his media analysis to offer their own take on the cultural, political, and aesthetic stakes of media texts and practices.”

However, one did not have to be philosophically literate to enjoy the talk. Jung-Hsien Lin CGU ’17, a graduate student in cultural studies who draws heavily on Žižek for her own work, thought Žižek was effective.

“He himself is a performer. But I think for any student—whatever major they are—when you read his work, there’s going to be one sentence you could actually relate to," she said. "And it’s very hard ... for someone who’s trained to be a philosopher [to do that]. Even though [Žižek is] using jargon, [he can] still kind of make people see what [he’s] critiquing. And he’s very good at that.”

Students said that by making his topics relevant to current events, Žižek forces his listeners to consider the presence of ideology in their everyday lives.

“The whole point is that whether or not he’s right, he gives you the feeling that there’s a lot more going on in politics, in psychology. He draws these really interesting connections which probably require his understanding of history and psychology," Neel Kumar PO '18 said. "What he does really well … is show you that his ideas are present. You don’t have to buy his whole critique, you don’t have to buy his whole response to it, but you have to agree with him that [the ideas are] there.”